“I am honored to be here today to celebrate this special moment in your church’s history.” Steinbach mayor Earl Funk spoke those words on March 14 during a Sunday morning service at the Steinbach United Church. The congregation was marking an historic occasion as they became the first church in Steinbach to formally declare themselves an affirming congregation, one that is open to inclusion of 2SLGBTQ+ people in every aspect of their church’s work and ministry. The church was making a public, intentional and explicit declaration of their decision.
I know at Bethel Mennonite Church in Winnipeg where I am currently a member, our journey to formally become an affirming congregation was a process that went on for many years after being initiated by church members who were the parents of 2SLGBTQ+ children.
As I listened to the Steinbach United Church affirmation worship service, I realized the journey had also been a long and thoughtful one for them. They processed the idea of becoming an affirming church with Sunday morning messages from special speakers, Bible studies, workshops, conversation circles, movie and discussion nights and tapping into the expertise of the Winnipeg Rainbow Resource Center and the Steinbach Neighbours for Community organizations. This culminated in a drive-by vote during the pandemic in the fall of 2020 when congregation members came to the church in their vehicles and marked ballots extended into their cars with a hockey stick in order to maintain social distance. The church members voted overwhelmingly to become an affirming congregation.
During the service on March 14th pastor Deborah Vitt spoke on the passage from 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 which talks about how the church, just like our bodies, is made up of many different parts and each deserves recognition for the contribution they make to the whole. This idea was incorporated into the statement of affirmation recited by church members declaring every aspect of their church life open to people of all ages, colors, ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations, abilities, marital status, and social or economic circumstances.
The music for the service was aptly chosen. One hymn suggested “draw your circle wider so no one stands alone” and another provided this encouragement. “Empowered by faith, reach out far and wide, as you journey through life filled with hope”.
In his remarks during the service Mayor Earl Funk said his parents had taught him the Biblical mandate to love your neighbour and he felt that was the mission of the church as well, to love everyone, in every circumstance, and in every time of their life. He concluded, “I am so excited to be here today and want to give words of encouragement to the United Church to continue the good work that they do.”
A visual presentation during the worship service outlined some of the good work Mayor Funk was referring to. I learned it was members of the United Church who provided the impetus to start local charities like The Steinbach Helping Hands food bank and the Agape House shelter for women and children escaping abusive home situations. The church has contributed to the work of Envision, Eden East, Anna’s House, Steinbach Neighbours for Community and many other charitable organizations.
As I watched the March 14 service, I could only hope that just as the Steinbach United Church has been a role model in the past, supporting so many life- giving ministries in their community, they will be seen as a role model now once again, leading the way for other Steinbach churches to make their own public declarations of acceptance for all of God’s children.
You can watch the service on the Steinbach United Church website.